Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Tag: Aberystwyth

Lost in another world – some serious Welshing

You’d be excused for thinking I’ve dropped off the planet. I have in fact, been in another world. A mile-long-resource-list, race-against-the-clock world, in which I’ve pitted my wits against legal and institutional constraints in order to access information.

Mostly, I have been working in Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru, a gorgeous Art Deco building, nestled half way up Aberystwyth’s Penglais Hill, which is home to the largest collection of maps, manuscripts, books and journals pertaining to Wales. After a rocky start, in which I inadvertently broke the library’s ‘no digital photos’ rule, I booked myself into a library tour. In English (yes, that serious), followed by a one-on-one introductory session with a librarian. Through these session, I worked out that I could in fact use the library photocopier to scan to my email address for five pence a page. Which is outrageous, seeing as I have a perfectly good scanner on my iPad. But preferable to paying the £20 per day photography fee. The only constraint being that each page comes through as a separate email. So, when not at the library, I’ve spent hours downloading and moving individual PDF pages into folders. But, LlGC weren’t about to change their policy for a jumped up Aussie with aspirations of writing a novel from the point-of-view of Owain Glyn Dwr’s wife. So, I figured I’d better just toe the line.

As it turns out, LlGC is an amazing place to work. The building is stunning and they have whole bays full of the books I have been online-drooling over for months. I’m not sure what the staff make of me. You see I keep turning up and ordering lots of items and I persist in speaking Welsh, even when English would be easier. However, on seeing my book list and my extensive use of the catalogue’s ‘saved items’ function, the librarian conducting the introductory session figured I wasn’t going away. At least, not for the foreseeable future, and, quite frankly, I’ve been having a ball. Even, if the poor staff are working overtime.

Now, in case you don’t know the lay of the land, Stiwdio Maelor (an amazing creative artist’s residency studio in North Wales), is over an hour away on the most direct bus route to the LlGC. Fortunately, my good friend Carolyn now lives in Borth (only twenty minutes on the train). I have therefore been doing lots of sleep overs. Ours is a Welsh language friendship, so in addition to harassing the library staff, I’ve spent my evenings nattering to Caroline, whose Welsh is way better than mine (bonus for me). When, our friend Gareth joined us for the weekend, it was like Bootcamp all over again, with miming, misunderstanding and lame jokes in the Welsh language. We stayed up late one night comparing childhood TV experiences (as you do). When asked about Aussie TV shows, the only program I could come up with was Skippy. Which for some reason, we all found hilarious in the early hours of the morning.

As Carolyn works for Y Lolfa, I scored an invite to their fiftieth birthday party. For those who don’t know, Y Lolfa is a small press specializing in Welsh and English language books with a Welsh focus. I hadn’t realized Y Lolfa was founded in 1960s during the heady days in which Merched y Wawr was established and in which, Gwynfor Evans won Plaid Cymru’s first seat in parliament. It seemed fitting that the event featured a video with fake greetings from the queen. The following quote from Y Lolfa’s editor pretty much sums up the tone of the evening:

In a world dominated by large corporations and bureaucracies Y Lolfa believes that ‘small is beautiful’ in publishing as in life. It was André Gide who said: “I like small nations. I like small numbers. The world will be saved by the few.”

In the midst of all this Welshing (my friend Veronica has assigned a verb to my activities), I also got interviewed by S4C. It was my friend Helen’s fault. She’d been asked to do an interview for the Welsh learner’s TV program Dal ati. Being a self confessed hater of public speaking, she suggested I might like to join her. I wasn’t sure the producers of Dal ati would be all that keen on an Aussie interloper. My suspicions were confirmed when the producers sent a list of questions to Helen and not to me. But due to the above mentioned self-confessed hatred, I decided a show of moral support was required. As it turned out the strategy back-fired on both of us because, once they realized that we were friends, who had met online through the SSiW language forum, their journalistic eyes lit up. Helen’s carefully considered responses were thrown out the window and, all of a sudden, the cameras started rolling. The result, Helen’s excellent Welsh turned to ice and my mouth went into overdrive (my own peculiar nervous reaction) and I proceeded to make a number of ridiculous statements which, if they don’t edit rigorously, will see me portrayed me as light-headed Aussie bimbo on national TV.

Helen and I spent so long licking our wounds after the interview that I missed the train to Borth. Which meant that I had to change for the Parti Penblwydd Y Lolfa in the tiny toilet cubicle of the Wynnstay Hotel. This meant ordering an obligatory drink in the Pizzeria which, incidentally, sold only crisps. As I was wearing a borrowed dress (thanks Carolyn), I wasn’t sure how it should look and, quite frankly, the Wynnstay’s mirrors weren’t nearly long enough. I ended up crowning the afternoon’s loopy utterances by asking a couple in the Crisperia whether they thought I had my dress on backwards. They, to their credit, took the question in their stride. The man even said I looked very nice. Needless to say, I left the hotel pretty swiftly after that and made absolutely certain I didn’t open my mouth at all on the bus back into town.

We had dinner at a Greek restaurant prior to the Parti Penblwydd and found out too late that they only took payment in cash. While Gareth made a dash to the teller machine, the waitress made polite conversation with me.

‘There are lots of Welsh speakers out tonight (like they are normally locked up). Is something going on?’

‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘it is Y Lolfa’s 50th birthday party.’

Upon which, her eyes grew wide. ‘And you’ve come all the way from Australia?’

It was tempting, oh so tempting to reply in the affirmative. But I didn’t want ‘dreadful liar’ added to my already going-down-hill reputation. Turns out this was wise because, during the party, the three of us were discussing something that involved pushing buttons. The verb to push was unfamiliar to Gareth.

‘Gwthio? He asked.

I said, yes, gwthio, and mimed the action of pushing a button. For some reason, Gareth had confused the verb to push with the verb to pull. So Carolyn said tynnu and mimed the action of pulling a lever. Through a series of repeat actions (which may have included a few other verbs) we established the contrasting meanings, at the end of which we looked up into the eyes of a startled onlooker, ‘Er…do you always communicate like this?’

‘Well, yes, of course, doesn’t everyone?’

The Storyteller’s granddaughter – a truly Pentecostal novel

My second holiday read was The storyteller's granddaughter by Margaret Redfern. What? Two books in four days? I read fast. I would have read a third book but The Storyteller's granddaughter is a work of fierce beauty. Parts of it required re-reading – multiple times.

Published by Honno the Welsh women's press (well, sue me, I have an interest in Welsh publishers too) and reviewed by the Historical Novel Society, The storyteller's granddaughter breaks all the rules of a 'popular' novel. It starts with an obscure prologue like first chapter, follows with the history of a tribe, swaps viewpoints more times than is usual, and uses Turkish and Welsh words without a great deal of translation, so that, at times, you are dizzied by its shifts. Yet, it works.

On so many levels, it works.

The story starts, late summer, in fourteenth century Anatolia, and follows the journey of a cobbled together group of traders lead by the enigmatic Welshman Dafydd ap Rhickett. Into this group comes a Yürük girl disguised as a boy who is seeking her lost English grandfather. The Welshman recognises the girl, he has seen her in the Yürük camp but, for reason of his own, he agrees to keep her secret. Through illness, intrigue, attack and disaster, the group races to catch the Venetian fleet sailing from Attaleia. Enroute, they come under the spell of the Yürük girl. For all harbour secrets, the biggest of which is being carried by the enigmatic Welshman himself.

The beauty of the novel comes from Redfern's use of language which is rich and poetic. Also from the intermingling of Sufi mysticism and western thought. Each character carries pain, each one is haunted by their secrets, yet in this community of many tongues and faiths, they journey towards peace and resolution. Could the story truly have happened? Possibly not. But there is enough beauty in the telling to make one yearn for belief. Indeed, Redfern gives us a multifarious vision of how a life of faith may be lived.

Great wrong was done by your father, and by the monks who would not listen to you. There are more ways of serving God than that of life in a monastery. That is what Nene used to say. Each to his own. Find gladness in your living. That is what she said. It is in gladness that you worship and honour the life God gave you and for which you are intended.

I'll admit, I ordered this book because I have an interest in Honno, an independent cooperative press that exists to get best of Welsh women's writing into print. You cannot submit to them unless you are Welsh, have lived in Wales, or have a significant connection to Wales. I sometimes lie awake at night, wondering whether having a Welsh mother, multiple holiday visits, speaking and teaching Cymraeg, and being related to the late Welsh historical novelist John James would be enough. These are questions I may put to the test when I stay at Stiwdio Maelor next year. Meanwhile, one thing is certain. To be picked up by Honno you need to be an exceptional writer.


Cwrs Haf – Prifysgol Aberystwyth

Ar y dechrau o Cwrs Haf, ro’n i’n meddwl baswn i’n ysgrifennu bob dydd – at the beginning of Summer School I thought I would blog every day. Pam lai? Ro’n i’n meddwl. Bydd llawer o amser sbar gyda fi – why not? I thought. I’ll have plenty of spare time.

Wel, wrth gwrs, ro’n i’n anghywir – well, of course, I was wrong. Ar ôl y dosbarthiau, a’r gweithgareddau, a gwaith cartref, a cheisio i siarad Cymraeg trwy’r dydd, ro’n i’n rhy wedi blino i feddwl – after the classes and the activities and trying to speak Welsh through the day, I was too tired to think.

Ond, heddiw, eisteddfod bach gyda ni – but today, we had a small eisteddfod. Roedd bob dosbarth yn gofyn i paratoi rhywbeth i rhannu gyda’r eraill – each class was asked to prepare something simple to share with the others. Roedd grwp pellach – fy nosbarth – yn trio i ddewis rhywbeth gwahanol – the intermediate group – my group – were trying to choose something different. Ro’n i’n moyn bod y gorau wrth gwrs – we wanted to be the best, of course. Pan ro’n i’n cael paned o de, awgrymais i: ‘beth am ganu Waltzing Matilda yn Gymraeg?’ – When we were having a cup of tea, I suggested: ‘what about singing Waltzing Matilda in Welsh?’

‘Syniad da! meddai pawbgood idea,’ everyone said. ‘Wyt ti’n gwybod y geirfa? – Do you know the words?’

Yn ffodus, roedd fy ffrind Dai Tren yn gallu anfon y geirfafortunately, my friend Dai Train was able to send the words. Ac roedd actor gyda ni yn dosbarth and there was an actor in the class. Roedd Aubrey wedi actio fel y Swagman pan ro’n i’n canu’r gan – Aubrey acted as the swagman while we sang the song. Roedd hi’n bendigedig i ganu gan Awstralian yn Gymraeg – it was very special to sing an Australian song in Welsh. Y modd perffaith i fi i baratoi am y daith hir adref – the perfect way to prepare for the long journey home.

Dyma, y araith fyr dw i wedi gwneud i esbonio Walso Matilda ac y geirfa o’r gan – here is the short speech I made to explain Waltzing Matilda and the lyrics of the song.

Heddiw, dyn ni’n mynd i ganu gan Awstralian. Dw i’n siwr bydd llawer o bobl wedi clywed y gan yn Saesneg ond, dyma, heddiw, am y trof cyntaf, mae grwp tri yn mynd i ganu Walso Matilda yn Gymraeg. 
Ond cyn i ni ddechrau, hoffwn i’n dweud wrthoch chi dipyn bach am y gan. Roedd hi’n ysgrifennu yn y bedwaredd canrif ar bymtheg gan Andrew Barton Patterson. Ei enw e barddoniol oedd Banjo – Banjo Patterson.
Mae’r gan yn dweud stori – stori am swagman. Doedd y swagman ddim yn byw yn y un lle. Roedd rhaid iddo fe symud o gwmpas yr wlad ffeindio gwaith. Ar ei gefyn roedd e’n gorfod cario ei wely ac ei ddillad. Bob nos, basai e’n gwersylla ma’s dan y sêr. Weithiau, ar ddiweth y dydd, roedd llawer o arian  gydfa fe i brynu bwyd a de a siwgr. Ond weithiau, ffeindodd e ddim digon o waith. Felly, roedd eisau bwyd arno fe. Mae hynny yn y lle bydd y stori yn dechrau.
Today, we are going to sing an Australian song. I am sure many people will have heard the song in English but, here, today, for the first time, group three are going to sing the song in Welsh.
Before we start, I would like to tell you a little about the song. It was written in the nineteenth century by Andrew Barton Patterson. His bardic name was Banjo – Banjo Patterson.
The song tells a story – a story about a swagman. The swagman wasn’t living in one place. He had to move about the country to find work. On his back, he was forced to carry his bed and his clothes. Every night, he would camp out beneath the stars. Sometimes, at the end of the day, he would have plenty of money to buy food and tea and sugar. But sometimes, he didn’t find enough work. Then he was hungry. That is where the story will begin.
Fyddwn ni ddim dweud am pa mor hir gwariais i ysgrifennu’r ariath fyr – we won’t talk about how long I spent writing that short speech – neu pa mor nerfus ro’n i’n teimlo  – or how nervous I was feeling – neu llawer drafiau ro’n i’n wneud – or how many drafts I made. Achos, dw i wedi gorffen un mis o ysgol iaith dwys – I have finished a month of intensive language school.
 Dyma yw nos am falchder – this is a night for pride.

Gwaith Cartref

Am gwaith cartref, roedd rhaid i ni ysgrifennu cerdyn post disgriffio gwyliau ofnadwy – for homework, we had to write a post card describing an awful holiday. Achos, gofynodd llawer o bobl: sut yw’r tywyth yn Awstralia? Because lots of  people ask: how is the weather in Australia? Ro’n i’n meddwl fy mod i’n gosod y record yn syth – I thought I’d better set the record straight.
Annwyl Mam a Thad,
Cyrhaeddais i  Cairns ddydd Iau diwetha – I arrived in Cairns last Thursday. Roedd y gwesty yn gyfforddus ar y ddechrau – the hotel was comfortable in the beginning. Ond dyw hi ddim wedi stopio bwrw glaw am chwech diwrnod – but it hasn’t stopped raining for six days. Tymor gwlyb yw e! It’s the wet season. Ond siaradon nhw ddim am hynny yn y dudalen ymwelwyr. But they didn’t say that in the tourist brochure. Mae’r dŵr llifogydd yn codi o gwmpas y gwesty ac mae’r trydan wedi torri ac mae’r staff cyfeillgar wedi gadael – the flood water is rising around the hotel and the electricity has broken and the friendly staff have left. Dw i’n sefyll ar y to gwesty gyda y llyfaint ‘cane’ a gweithi am help – I am standing on the hotel roof with the cane toads and shouting for help. Ond does neb yn gallu fy ngweld i neu fy nghlywed fi – but no one can see me or hear me. Dw i’n rhwymo y cerdyn post hon i’r simnai – I am binding this post card to the chimney. Os, dw i ddim yn dod yn ôl, rhowch fy nhgasliad stampiau i Oxfam – if I don’t come back, give my stamp collection to Oxfam.
Eich mab cariadus chi Siôn – your loving son, John.
Dyma ni – there we are. Dw i’n siwr wedi gwneud llawer o camgymeriad – I’m sure to have made lots of mistakes. Ond mwynheus i ysgrifennu’r carden post yn fawr iawn – but I enjoyed writing the post card very much.

Ychydig o luniau – a few pictures

Ychdig o bobl wedi gofyn am luniau – a few people have asked for pictures.
Felly, heddiw, pan ro’n i’n cerdedd o’r brifysgol i’r dref, tynnais i ychdig o luniau – therefore, today, when I walked from the university to the town, I took a few pictures.
Dychmygu, dyn ni’n cerdedd i gyd – imagine we are walking together
Dw i’n mynd i ddosbarth yn y adeliad yma – I go to class in this building
Mae’r brifysgol ydy lan y bryn uwchben y dref – the university is on a hill above the town
Mae llawer o blodau yn y Haf – there are lots of flowers in the summer
Siop y pethe – a Welsh Language book shop
Dyma ‘r olwg o’r castell – here’s the view from the castle.
Treehouse, ydy y caffi organic – Tree house, is the organic cafe. Dw i’n prynu fy mara spelt i yma – I buy my spelt bread here.
Adeliadau llywodreath – government buildings
Dyma y olwg o’r fynwent – here’s the view from the cemetery
Beth ydych chi’n meddwl – what do you think? Aberystwyth ydy dref hyfryd – Aberystwyth is a lovely town.
Dw i’n sicr byddwch chi’n cytuno – I’m sure you will agree.

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